Published On: Thu, Jun 15th, 2017

The Jerusalem International Book Fair 2017

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The Jerusalem International Book Fair is being held this week at the First Station compound. The First Station is a new outdoor venue which opened just a few years ago around the refurbished old train station in Jerusalem.

Located just south of the downtown area near Bell Park, It’s basically a shopping mall with a number of upscale restaurants and has become the new popular hangout in central Jerusalem.

In the past the Fair was held at the national convention center called Binyanei Hauma, which is located near the main entrance to the city. It was probably moved to the First Station to help promote the location, because it offers an outdoor venue and it costs less to rent the spaces there.

The main event was the international exhibition held indoors. Unfortunately, the hall was poorly ventilated and there was not as much as a water fountain inside.

Throughout the day, various authors of all subjects spoke to a small group inside of an adjacent social hall. The organizers clearly did not expect much interest in these panels as there were maybe fifty seats available. In spite of all of the no smoking signs, the hall reeked of stale cigarette smoke. No one smoked during the talks, so the stench was probably left over from people who attended previous events. Israelis tend to ignore the no smoking signs at such places.

I caught one panel on poetry. Four women – two Americans and two Israelis – participated in the session which was sponsored by the Society for the Advancement of Poetry in Israel.

The poets took turns reading Hebrew poems both in the original and in translation. Interestingly, they noted the problem of translating from Hebrew to English since Hebrew has masculine and feminine nouns and English does not. So where in Hebrew a poem may use the words him and her, in English the poem would only use the word it.

One of the American poets was Sarah Maclay. A native of Montana, she currently lives in Venice, California, and was only in Israel for a couple of days for the Fair.

I feel that I picked the right panel to attend. However, it would have been nice if there had been more effort in promoting these panels as well as offering a nicer setting for them.

The main exhibition had booths offering books in a variety of languages including Hebrew, English, Arabic, French, Spanish, Italian and Chinese.

Anyone could get a booth inside and it seemed like there were no limitations for doing so. Let’s see, there were the anti-Israel apologists for terrorism represented by the Bookshop from the American Colony Hotel. The hotel is located just north of the Old City in what some people call East Jerusalem. But it’s right next to the pre-1967 demarcation line. I will not do the so called books displayed in their booth the honor of mentioning their names.

You might think that I am being a bit too harsh here, but this was called an international fair and there was an expectation that people from around the world would attend.

Even more troubling was the presence of Christian missionaries. This group is called The Society for Distributing Hebrew Scriptures. “Hebrew Scriptures” is what Evangelicals who want to convert Jews call the Tora. They had a selection of Hebrew-English editions of the New Testament. You would only provide the New Testament in Hebrew if you are trying to convert Jewish Israelis to Christianity.

Yes there are Christians in Israel, but there first languages are Arabic, Armenian, or something European. They are mostly Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox or Eastern Orthodox. The American Protestants do not appreciate these older orthodox churches and also wish to convert their adherents to Protestant denominations. But members these orthodox denominations obviously already have copies of the New Testament in their languages.

Heard enough yet?

Well this one takes the cake: There was actually an Esperanto booth. Yes, Esperanto! I think that a Pew study recently showed that approximately 0.0000000001% of people in Israel have ever heard of this language. But maybe Bill Shatner – AKA Captain Kirk – would have appreciated it. Before Star Trek he stared in an all Esperanto movie called “Incubus;” even though, he did not speak the language.

A Chinese publishing company also had a booth at the fair. They were there to develop new business ties in Israel. Unfortunately, none spoke Hebrew and only one person out of at least a dozen spoke any English and she barely understood my questions.

Outside the main exhibition hall were tables for numerous Israeli publishers. These stands opened at 6 pm. Sales were abundant with offers ranging from 2 books for 100 Shekels ($28) to 4 for 100. Children’s books were offered at the highest discounts. This was a clear act of discrimination against adults.

While this was an international book fair, it was also Israel’s national Hebrew book week this week. This meant that outside almost all of the books on sale were in Hebrew, so sorry tourists.

There were some English books available inside, though. A downtown Jewish bookstore, Pomerantz, was there selling a variety of English books on Jewish subjects. Geffen and Ktav publishing houses were also there offering a variety of English books. Geffen had a number of its new authors, including an Israeli army general, on hand to talk about their books.

Koren/Magid was there too selling books on Tora in both English and Hebrew as well as a selection of Bibles and prayer books.

I was fortunate enough to collect four complementary books for review purposes. Look for my reviews in the coming weeks.

Unfortunately, this was not enough for me. I just couldn’t help myself and bought another ten books outside.

Seriously I need help. I need an intervention. I will admit it right here and now. I am a bookaholic. Yes it’s true. My name is Gil and I am a bookaholic.

I walked away with fourteen new books in spite of the fact that I already had a pile of about fifty books at home which I have not even touched yet. And that does not even include all of the e books which I have on my tablet. I read at least two whole books a week and am in the middle of reading four or five at a time. And this does not even include the books that I use when studying Tora.

So I have finally decided to do something about this. After I finish the reviews I will be entering a rehab program. The program does not allow any reading of any kind. Even the instructions on the tubes of toothpaste are blocked out.

People may only watch TV all day long and nothing with subtitles. Also no news channels because they all have that crawl at the bottom of the screen. People are not even allowed to look up the TV listings. Instead a channel has someone reciting a list of the upcoming scheduled programs out loud.

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